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Automatic Expungement Of Marijuana Convictions Is More Complicated Than It Sounds

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hundreds of marijuana convictions could be expunged under the State of Illinois' new marijuana laws.

But as CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reported Tuesday, it's not quite that simple – or fast.

How many minor marijuana violations could be cleared away automatically? The number is large – an estimated 700,000 are eligible statewide.

But this is especially important – the automatic expungement does not happen when recreational marijuana is legalized on Jan. 1, 2020. It happens when when the case is identified and processed – and the State of Illinois and Cook County are each going about that differently.

Each start with The Illinois State Police, with officers reviewing databases for eligible cases individually. To date, the tedious process totals only 116,000.

In the end, State Police and local law enforcement will be responsible for dedicating personnel to wiping away the records.

An "automatic" expungement doesn't have to be approved until January 2021 if it dates as far back as 2013.

In August, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx outlined Cook County's process.

"A low-level marijuana conviction does not mean that someone is a threat to public safety," she said.

The county's process also starts with state police. But the nonprofit Code for America is using volunteers and special software to help more quickly identify cases.

Following a judge's approval, local law enforcement or the State Police must actually clear the record.

"We've had to do it on a case-by-case basis," said Ashley Kilroy, executive director of the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy.

And that was labor intensive and came at a price, Kilroy said.

"We've had to incur additional costs," Kilroy said.

Unlike Illinois, Colorado's 2014 legalization did not provide automatic expungement. She warns that Illinois will still need to budget for locating those with expunged records.

"You need to make sure you notify the individual to let them know this conviction has been vacated," Kilroy said.

Cases of marijuana possession of less than 30 grams qualify for automatic expungement as long as they are not associated with violent crimes. But several police sources told us today, the manpower needed to follow through with reviewing records will be a challenge.

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